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Syracuse’s Greatest Athlete Jim Brown passes away at age 87

Jim Brown - Syracuse

The Syracuse Orange and the number 44 are synonymous and a lot of that is due to the career of Jim Brown.

Brown passed away on May 18th at the age of 87, the same date as the man who followed him at Syracuse, Ernie Davis. He leaves a legacy that features a lot of incredible accomplishments. (Along with acts that frankly are inexcusable. I’m going to acknowledge that, but not dwell on them).

Brown’s regarded by many as the greatest running back and the greatest lacrosse player of all-time. A member of three Hall of Fames (NFL, College Football, and National Lacrosse). He came to Syracuse without a scholarship and was placed on the offensive line. Brown said that it was his lacrosse coach, Roy Simmons, Sr. who was a key reason he came back for a second year.

It took injuries for Brown to get a chance to carry the ball and once he stepped foot on the field it was the best player in the country. In addition to football and lacrosse, Brown played on the Orange basketball team, competed with the track and field team, and boxed. Legend has it that during halftime of a lacrosse game, Brown walked over to the track meet happening. He put down his stick and gloves, grabbed the discus and won the event with one throw before going back for the second half.

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Brown paved the way for Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, but his time at Syracuse wasn’t all positive. For the longest time, Brown remained apart of Syracuse as a result of his treatment. When Spike Lee released a documentary on Brown, the two came to Syracuse for a premiere where Brown talked about the inequity he faced, but also about the respect and admiration he felt for Simmons, Sr.

The visit re-opened the door for Brown and Syracuse to mend the relationship. It led to his appearance at several events like the retirement of 44, and the dedication for The 44 Plaza.

As decorated as Brown was during his athletic career, to many he will be remembered for his activism and community work. His work in his community impacted people directly from his support of black-owned business, to working to reduce gang violence.

Jim Brown the athlete is among the greatest we’ve ever seen. Jim Brown the man was like the rest of us- imperfect, but a man who leaves us with examples (good and bad) to guide us to do better.